Hoping to learn from some of the mistakes of 4th Edition — namely, that most of the playtesting was done behind closed doors and a fair number of suggestions were ignored by Wizards of the Coast, according to people who participated — Dungeons and Dragons launched the open playtest over the weekend for their next version of the rules, D&D Next. Meant to be a modular system that can be simplified or complicated as players want, as well as be compatible with all existing versions of D&D in some form or another, D&D Next is an ambitious undertaking, hence the public nature of their playtesting.
Provided for anybody (not just paid subscribers) are a short version of the rules, five characters, and a setting with monsters to fight. I haven’t had a chance to play it yet, nor have I looked much at the rules, but it hybridizes a lot of what we’ve seen in previous games — Vancian magic is back, sort of, but so are backgrounds and themes from 4th Ed. (and made more important, because now your skills are tied to your background, and themes can determine your role — defender, leader, etc. — as opposed to your class in both cases).
I have some reservations about the proposed changes — I feel Vancian magic, particularly for druids and clerics who pull their spells out of the ether instead of a spellbook, tends to reward the players who are the most well-read on the rules supplements, especially when it comes to power creep — but some optimism as well — I like backgrounds and themes having a bigger role to play in your character. And hey, that’s what a playtest is for, ironing out the kinks, finding what works and what doesn’t. Whether you like or hate D&D Next on principle, it’ll be an interesting journey at the very least.
Want to check it out yourself? Download it free here.